Are We The Armpit of The Galaxy?

Image of the night sky above Paranal on 21 July 2007, taken by ESO astronomer Yuri Beletsky. (Wikimedia Commons)

There's a classic old-school IBM video called "Powers of 10," which starts with a 10-meter square scene of a man picnicking in a park in Chicago. It pulls out at scales of 10 until it encompasses a 10^24 view of the universe before zooming back to the man and going deep to the subatomic, 10^-16 level. The lesson is that, at whatever scale, from macro-cosmic to micro-biological, there are similarities of structure: lattices, space, particle interaction.

But Gaia theorists aside, we don't tend to mix physics and medicine. Until now. The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics recently announced a program called AstroMed, which merges astrophysical imaging (i.e., Hubble stuff) with medical imaging (like 3D sonograms and FMRI brain scans). The idea is a fresh one: Think of the universe as an organism, with various systems and regions that can be mapped the way we map blood circulation, the development of a fetus or the spread of tumors.  All well and good -- depending on what part of the galactic body we end up being. Historically, we tend to be pretty arrogant about these things (Earth as the center of existence, etc). But we all know parts of the country or the world or the city we live in that get bum raps as the butts of jokes; New Jersey as America's armpit, that kind of thing.

So here's hoping we're at the head of galaxy. Or the heart. Evaluating the guts of the galaxy, nobody wants to be the bellyfat.


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